Charlottesville judge says tarps must be removed from Confederate statues

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) — A Charlottesville judge has ruled that the tarps covering statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson must be removed.

The tarps were installed in the wake of deadly violence that erupted at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville on August 12, leading to the deaths of Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police troopers.

The city said it was as a sign of mourning, but did not specify a date when that mourning would end.

But the covering of the Confederate statues, which were the initial focal point of the rally due to Charlottesville's vote to move the Lee statue, drew backlash from many people.

In the months since that time, they have been removed multiple times and replaced by Parks and Recreation crews. If the tarp was damaged when removed, replacing it came at a cost to the city.

City officials say each tarp, measuring 40 feet by 60 feet, cost about $375. In addition to that, the city paid other costs like manpower and equipment needed to shroud the statues.

But that will no longer be a concern after the latest decision in the long-running debate over whether the statues should remain in downtown Charlottesville.

The ruling was made at the conclusion of a motions hearing on Tuesday morning concerning the lawsuit to prevent the city from removing the statues.

Attorney Charles Weber sued the city after council voted to remove the monuments last year. He said it's a protected war monument, which, under Virginia law makes it "unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with" any war monuments.

The city argued that state law applied only to war memorials built after the law was amended in 1998 (the statute was originally codified in the 1950s, after the statues were erected in the 1920s).

Late last year, a judge ruled the Jackson Statue meets criteria of being a war memorial but also chose to let the tarps stay.

However, he said the plaintiffs did not adequately prove that the Lee statue is a war monument.

Now, on February 27, Judge Richard E. Moore ruled that the Robert E. Lee statue qualifies as well, but said the city was within its authority to rename Jackson Park to Justice Park.

Earlier in the trial, a funeral director from Hill and Wood Funeral Home in Charlottesville testified that public mourning generally lasts between 30 to 40 days, which meant, if the tarps were meant to symbolize mourning, it was past time for them to come down.

However, when the Charlottesville City Council voted to install the tarps, there was no indication made on when they would be removed.

Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones also testified the city spent $3,000 on each tarp, and bought six or seven of them.

This means the city spent between $18,000 and $21,000 on tarps.

"We're very grateful the state legislature has seen fit to basically uphold the current law on good, sound public policy for Virginia," said Weber.

Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy is an advocate for the statue removal. He previously said that no matter what is decided at this hearing, he will continue looking for ways for it to be removed.

"Regardless of what transpires tomorrow in court, we're still going to move forward in terms of exercising all of our options to move the statues out the city of Charlottesville," said Bellamy.

According to the judge, the tarps must come down within 15 days from the court order being entered, which will likely happen in the next two days.